At the Detroit Auto Show in the Cobo Hall convention center, the Progressive Auto X Prize booth was set up next to a faux forest incorporating a green car race track in the building's basement.
Although the symbolism was perhaps apt -- the $10 million prize contains racing elements -- the foot traffic was not all it could be. The space for the race track was available because a number of belt-tightening automakers chose not to come to Detroit.
John Shore, senior director of the Auto X Prize. (Jim Motavalli photo)
The Auto X Prize is designed to help jump-start competition for 100 mile-per-gallon (or equivalent in a fuel other than gasoline), production-ready cars and trucks. Winners will have to demonstrate their business readiness to produce 10,000 units a year. Some 120 teams, who want to build everything from air cars to fuel-cell vehicles, signed letters of intent. To go further into the registration phase, they need to pony up $5,000, and 35 teams have so far done that.
According to John Shore, the X Prize senior director, the next step is adding a so-called Demonstration Division designed to encourage participation by major carmakers. Only India's Tata, which owns Jaguar and Land Rover, has signed to date. The new division will not include prize money, but winning it with top-ranked environmental technology would presumably be prestigious.
"It will provide a venue for the big automakers to showcase vehicles on the market today or by 2012," Shore said in an interview punctuated by whooshing electric cars on the test track. "We also wanted to show that there's a big difference between the concept cars some of our competitors will be building and the crash-tested vehicles that are actually being sold."
Shore said that the X Prize staff is in ongoing talks with the carmakers. "We're quite optimistic," he said. "This is a great way to introduce new technology to the public."
If some automakers don't sign up, it's because they're fighting to stay afloat. Auto sales were down 18 percent in 2008, and both GM and Chrysler are facing bankruptcy. Sales were down 36 percent in December. In normal times, carmakers absolutely love gala events like the Progressive Auto X Prize.
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